It's sometimes easy to forget, what with all of Google's various ventures and services, that the search giant's impressive revenue stream comes almost entirely from advertising revenue. To that end, Google has an extremely strong interest in keeping tabs on what users are up to online so that they can serve up targeted ads and keep that money train rolling.
Google's zeal in keeping up with users' browsing habits backfired when a February 2012 report in the Wall Street Journal detailed how Google was skirting around a private web browsing setting in Safari.
The report explained how Google was using specialized code that worked to keep track of a user's web activity even when privacy settings to block such tracking were enabled. The code in question affected both the desktop and mobile versions of Safari. Notably, no other web browsers were affected.
With that quick refresher now out of the way, Macworld is reporting that Google yesterday reached a US$17 million settlement deal with the District of Columbia and 37 other states over the privacy misstep which Google claimed was more of an accident than anything else.
In a press release announcing the settlement deal, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said:
In addition to forking over $17 million, Google also agreed to the following terms:
Consumers should be able to know whether there are other eyes surfing the web with them. By tracking millions of people without their knowledge, Google violated not only their privacy, but also their trust.
- Not deploy the type of code used in this case to override a browser's cookie-blocking settings without the consumer's consent unless it is necessary to do so in order to detect, prevent or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues.
- Not misrepresent or omit material information to consumers about how they can use any particular Google product, service or tool to directly manage how Google serves advertisements to their browsers.
- Improve the information it gives consumers regarding cookies, their purpose and how the cookies are managed by consumers using Google's products or services and tools.
- Maintain systems designed to ensure the expiration of the third-party cookies set on Safari Web browsers while their default settings had been circumvented.
Lastly, it's worth noting that Google already paid out $22.5 million to the Federal Trade Commission for its little Safari adventure.